Hungary declares state of emergency on border

By bne IntelliNews September 15, 2015

Gabriela Gandovksa -

 

Hungary has declared a state of emergency in two counties along the border with Serbia in a move that will give extra power to security forces to crack down on those trying to enter the country illegally, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said on September 15.

The move comes as the country struggles to handle a record number of migrants that have crossed Hungary's borders in recent months, with the country now serving as a frontline entry point to the EU’s passport-free zone.

The measure, which will be applied in Bacs-Kiskun and Csongrad counties, will help back up new laws entering into effect in Hungary on September 15 to clamp down on migrants.

The populist right-wing government of Viktor Orban, which has already come under intense criticism for its hard stance on migrants, has pushed through laws that make illegal border crossing punishable by up to three years in prison. Moreover, those who damage the fence currently built along Hungary’s 175km border with Serbia will face up to five years in prison. Those caught will be taken to guarded detention camps where their cases will be heard in fast-track special courts.

At least 200,000 migrants have entered Hungary so far this year, with a record 9,380 crossing the border on September 14. Hours after the new laws came into force, Hungarian police said they have arrested 60 people accused of trying to breach a razor-wire fence at the border.

In the early hours of September 15, Hungarian police sealed a railway crossing point that had been used by tens of thousands of migrants. As a result, tensions flared with Serbia, which warned that it could not deal with the bottleneck of people trying to enter Hungary. Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia's minister in charge of tackling the migrant crisis, said Hungary “will have to open the border” because of the buildup of refugees on the Serbian side.

Moreover, Budapest has said it would send back all refugees that have passed through a “safe country” before entering Hungary. Under a Hungarian law passed in August, Serbia is considered a safe country, meaning those crossing from it cannot claim asylum. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, disputes Hungary’s designation of Serbia as a “safe country” saying Belgrade lacks the capacity to accept large numbers of refugees.

Serbia has said it will not accept anyone turned back from Hungary. “That's no longer our responsibility”, Aleksandar Vulin, told Tanjug. “They are on Hungarian territory and I expect the Hungarian state to behave accordingly towards them.”

Rising tension at Hungary-Serbia border comes after EU’s interior ministers failed to agree on a plan to redistribute an additional 120,000 asylum seekers across the bloc through mandatory quotas mainly because of opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.

While, the EU is still searching for a joint action to handle the migrant crisis, Hungary continues to push ahead with tough measures. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the country will build a new fence along Hungary’s border with Romania. “We have made the decision to start preparatory works for the construction of a fence starting from the Hungarian-Serbian-Romanian border at a reasonable length, should migration pressure shift in the direction of Romania," Szijjarto said, according to Portfolio.hu.

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